In April, I’ll have been operating the @chswx Twitter account for four years. In that time, I have relayed a vast majority of all the severe weather watches and warnings issued by the National Weather Service for the Charleston, SC Tri-County Area *manually.* As you can imagine, this has been quite an undertaking and has helped @chswx build quite an impressive following for which I am extremely grateful!
To that end, I don’t want to accidentally let someone down by missing a critical warning overnight or when I am occupied with other tasks. (That, and it’s pretty hard to explain to my wife why I’m interrupting our dinner together to relay a warning over Twitter.) Therefore, I am piloting the use of automated warnings on @chswx starting today.
I’m kicking the tires on a free trial of Weather Message, which offers pretty good social media integration, including Twitter and Facebook. Weather Message uses an EMWIN feed over the Internet to relay messages. I don’t have ready access to a dish (and bandwidth for a full NOAAPort feed over the Web is monstrous). EMWIN fills the role I need nicely. EMWIN prioritizes severe weather warnings in its data stream, so our warnings will still be relayed in a very timely fashion — still among the fastest on Twitter in southeast SC. Chances are good, too, that I will be around to back up the automatic message with the context you’ve come to know and hopefully love over the years.
There are three downfalls to this:
- The warning message will include counties, but not cities just yet. I’m working on a clean way to better represent cities in the polygon. (If anybody with Weather Message experience is reading this and can chime in on it, please do!)
- There is not yet support for sending messages to identi.ca. This part really sucks; third-party support for identi.ca is dismal. I think I have an idea for a solution to this, but it will require extensive testing and won’t be ready right away. Rest assured, though, that I’m working on it. identi.ca is a really important tool in my stack (especially given Twitter’s questionable-at-times reliability) and I want to make sure it is properly supported.
- Weather Message is for Windows only, requiring me to use an Amazon EC2 instance to keep it going at the moment. This may get expensive, so we will see. It is possible that I may only run the automated bot during times where I’m tied up.
I also want to reiterate my disclaimer that @chswx should not be your sole source of severe weather information. Twitter can be astoundingly useful, but it can also be astoundingly unreliable, so I urge people to have redundant ways to receive severe weather information. An alerting NOAA Weather Radio is among the most reliable ways to receive weather warnings. There are also smartphone apps, such as the recently revamped iMap WeatherRadio, that push weather alerts to your iPhone based on your location (Android is coming soon). If you really, really like Twitter, consider following my Twitter list of Charleston broadcast meteorologists for enhanced context around a breaking weather situation.
If the automatic tweets become nonsensical or more confusing than helpful, I’ll make adjustments. Weather Message is well-tested software used by some of the best meteorology outfits in the business (including ABC 33/40 in Birmingham, AL, home of James Spann) so I am confident in its ability to cleanly and rapidly deliver important weather information. That being said, there could always be trouble with the service as it is still highly experimental and doesn’t have any redundancy set up yet. I definitely want your feedback — please sound off in the comments, and thanks for following @chswx over the years!